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Photographer Karen Melvin, who shot the "Great Houses of Summit Avenue and the Hill District."

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Holiday books: 10 that reflect Minnesota and the region

  • Article by: Laurie Hertzel
  • Star Tribune
  • November 30, 2013 - 3:58 PM

“Leaving Rollingstone”

By Kevin Fenton (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $22.95)

Kevin Fenton’s memoir of growing up on a farm in southern Minnesota and then moving to the city (first Winona, then St. Paul) captures the 1960s, small-town life and the growing restlessness of its author. In prose that veers gracefully between the past and the present, Fenton depicts both the happy innocence of childhood and the clear-eyed understanding of adulthood.

 

“The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Secret Boyhood Diary”

Edited by Dave Page (University of Minnesota Press, $12.95)

This little diary is just two dozen pages long, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the teenage F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s no surprise that he was drawn to the young lovelies of St. Paul. (His first entry, from August 1910, is called “My Girls,” in which he recalls escapades with girls, including one named Kitty, whom he kissed so many times one afternoon “it was impossible to count.”) Augmented with essays and context by Dave Page, who has written extensively on Fitzgerald.

 

“Ordinary Grace”

By William Kent Krueger (Atria, $24.99)

Though billed as a mystery, “Ordinary Grace” is something of a departure for St. Paul writer William Kent Krueger, who has shot to the New York Times bestseller list with his Cork O’Connor mysteries set Up North. “Ordinary Grace” is a poignant coming-of-age tale set in the Minnesota River Valley in the early 1960s. Like any good mystery it begins with a corpse, but it blossoms to encompass a boy’s loss of innocence and his growing understanding of life and death.

 

“Great Houses of Summit Avenue and the Hill District”

By Karen Melvin, et. al. (Big Picture Press, $54.95)

There’s text in this book, of course, but the main draw is the gorgeous color photography of the stately exteriors and gorgeous interiors of 24 mansions along St. Paul’s Summit Avenue. You’ll spend some time leafing through this book, admiring the curved staircases, the carved woodwork, the tiled fireplaces, the beamed ceilings and the mullioned windows. But make sure you go back and read the words, which were written by historians and architectural writers and which provide the history and context for all this opulence.

 

Events: Saturday: noon, Common Good Books, St. Paul; 1 p.m. Bibelot, Grand Av., St. Paul; 3 p.m. Traditions Home Furnishings, St. Paul. Next Sunday: noon, Barnes & Noble Highland Village, St. Paul; 2 p.m. Barnes & Noble Ridgehaven Mall, Minnetonka.

“Paddling to Winter”

By Julie Buckles (Raven Productions Inc., $17.95)

In May 1999, Wisconsin writer Julie Buckles and her husband, Charly, set out in their canoe to paddle 1,700 miles from Lake Superior to northern Saskatchewan. They arrived in time for winter (and stayed until spring).

Buckles had not intended to write about the trip, but after Sept. 11, 2001, she was feeling unmoored. “The Trip became my lifeline. … I wanted to remember the woman — now terrified to get on an airplane — who had paddled so far through the North American wilderness.” The book is action-packed and lively, and the journey is incredible.

 

“Suitable Accommodations”

By Katherine A. Powers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35)

J.F. Powers was a reluctant family man, frustrated by society’s expectations of a traditional life and job which, he felt, took away from his writing time. The big Powers family (he and his wife had five children) moved frequently, living for a while in Ireland and then relocating to Collegeville, Minn., so J.F. could teach at St. John’s University. He wrote novels and short stories and won the National Book Award in 1963. This collection of letters, gathered by his oldest daughter, Katherine, provides a fascinating look at the life of a witty, frustrated and extremely talented man.

 

“The 2014 Saint Paul Almanac”

(Arcata Press, $14.95)

This appealingly fat paperback is a work of genius — many geniuses, actually. Yes, it’s a monthly guide to activities in St. Paul over the next year, but that’s just for starters; the book is packed full of poems, short essays, photographs and paintings, all with a St. Paul theme.

Contributors include ordinary folk, emerging writers and some of the state’s most important authors — Connie Wanek, Carol Connolly, Joyce Sutphen and oh, here’s a little poem about spring by Garrison Keillor. Also included is a hand-drawn poster-sized map showing neighborhoods, parks and indie businesses (such as Grumpy Steve’s, Polly’s Coffee Cove and Big Daddy’s BBQ). A charming, egalitarian and useful book. Minneapolis should take note.

Accepting submissions for the 2015 Almanac through Dec. 15. Go to saintpaulalmanac.org.

 

“Airmail: The Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer”

Edited by Thomas R. Smith (Graywolf Press, $35)

What a delight these letters are: lively and newsy and filled with mutual admiration and occasional requests for advice and rants about politics and homey details of everyday life.

Not scary at all, nor intimidating, despite the fact that the correspondence is between two of the most significant poets of the 20th century — Minnesotan Robert Bly, and Swede Tomas Tranströmer. The book begins in the 1960s and ends in 2000, but the correspondence, and the friendship, continues.

 

“Vacationland”

By Sarah Stonich (University of Minnesota Press, $16.95)

There is such joy in reading this novel by Minneapolis writer Sarah Stonich. The chapters — individual stories — are linked by geography: a decrepit and mostly deserted mom-and-pop resort Up North that once was the site of tragedy and passion.

This book is funny and poignant, the characters are distinct but recognizable, and Stonich grabs you right out of the chute with her first story, which involves a severed hand. There is no way you can stop reading after that.

 

“Potluck Supper With Meeting to Follow”

By Andy Sturdevant (Coffee House Press, $22)

Andy Sturdevant moved to Minneapolis in 2005 and apparently set out to learn everything there was to learn about the city — the contents of the photo archives at the Central Library; the alleys, which need names; the history; the divey bars and their neon signs; random flagpoles and their flags. This collection of essays is about all of those things, and, of course, much more, all steeped in Sturdevant’s intelligent, interesting and distinct voice.

Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s books editor. On Twitter: @StribBooks

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